Javascript Redirect

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stealing places, ecosystems, and humanity

Jack (Tom Cruise), a human survivor of an alien invasion, watches Earth's oceans taken for energy. "Oblivion" (Universal Pictures, 2013)

Science fiction is keen on plots with aliens attacking Earth and taking its resources. In the recent film "Oblivion," for instance, Tom Cruise plays a character that learns the hard way what happens when Earth is invaded, leveled, and stripped of its oceans for someone else’s consumption. Tragically, this sort of thing has happened and is happening now—not by extraterrestrial monsters but by human cultures inserting themselves into other human cultures. The stronger invade the weaker, desecrate their land, and kill them off.

As my European heritage has benefited from the conquest of the indigenous people of North America, I suppose my credibility goes only so far in bringing up this topic. Still, after blogging on the words of Pope Francis to the bishops of Brazil to protect the Amazon Basin, a regular contributor at the Facebook page Catholic Social Thought, Politics, and the Public Square chastised me for not mentioning the matter of indigenous peoples. He was right to do so because the issue must be faced and addressed.

While it is little reported, there have been of late continued and heightened conquests of native people in South and Central America, much as there was in the North in the past few centuries. To satiate the desires of consumers like you, me, and many millions more, governments, industries, and illegal loggers are taking what little land is left from native peoples. 

A recent report by Salil Shetty of Amnesty International tells the story better than I can: 
The Indigenous Peoples of Brazil have been waiting a quarter of a century to get their land back. That was when Brazil’s federal authorities made a promise to protect and restore the land used by the country's Indigenous communities. 
Instead, those 25 years have taken a horrible toll – both on the communities and on the land. In Mato Grosso do Sul, what were hectares of forest with incredible diversity are now fields of sugar cane and soy beans. There are fields upon fields of these crops as far as the eye can see, broken intermittently by a small patch of forest. 
Here corporate players call the shots. Indigenous Peoples are left to live on the margins - literally.  I visited a small community called the Guarani-Kaiowá, who live between the barbed wire fence that surrounds a cane field and a major road. 
Their leaders welcomed me, but their words of anger, frustration and grief were drowned out by the nearly continuous roar of trucks travelling at high speed along the road.
Their tales of suffering are alarming, yet sadly not unusual. Just this year, a small boy in the community was struck by a car as he walked along the road, hand-in-hand with his grandmother—the fifth family member she had lost.
Indigenous leaders in July 2012 plead to stop
the construction of the Belo Monte dam. 
Photo: Flicker/ International Rivers 
Attacks on members of Indigenous communities are routine in Brazil. Community leaders are often targeted, members disappear and activists are particularly at risk, but virtually none of the perpetrators are brought to justice.
These land grabs aren't only for agriculture. Powerful economic forces also want these places for hydropower. Global Voice reports a few weeks ago that 
[t]he fight continues between the Brazilian government pushing to bring another hydroelectric dam to the Tapajós river basin in the Brazilian Amazon and the indigenous Munduruku people who live there. In the states of Mato Grosso do Sul and Pará, where many indigenous people live, there are 11 hydroelectric plants in different stages of construction and licensing, including the controversial Belo Monte dam. Other areas in the region are undergoing environmental surveys to plan future development. The dams are being built to feed much-needed power to the country as it undergoes tremendous economic growth.
While there is sometimes good newslike yesterday's judicial suspension to prevent the eviction of indigenous peoples for the construction of the Belo Monte damn, or the recent efforts by Brazil's army to halt illegal loggingthe suffering continues as the rest of us go about our business of consuming. It would seem that a great many of us have become something like those nightmarish Hollywood extraterrestrials that invade Earth and drain it of its air, water, minerals, and humanity.

Photo: Flicker/ International Rivers
Of course, such ends are what the pontiffs have been warning of—even if few listen, or when those who do listen then demand more than words, as if pontiffs have worldly armies at their commands. Pontiffs, as bishops, have the role to teach and exhort the faithful. Then the faithful, with God’s grace, must go and love the world to new life.

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI quotes from his 2008 Message for World Peace Day and teaches us that 
[o]n this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself—God's gift to his children—and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it. This means being committed to making joint decisions “after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” Let us hope that the international community and individual governments will succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment. It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet.
Are these mere academic words? Hardly. They are a rallying cry for the greater good of all mankind. They are a remedy to thwart an evil that increasingly strips the planet of its eco-systems as it strips human beings of their homes, their dignity, and their lives.

In acknowledging and confronting this evil, the Church has a significant role to play.

Pope Francis in Rio for World Youth Day. 
Photo: Flicker/BostonCatholic
Certainly,the Church is already present in the Amazon, as we have seen in the lives of people like Sister Dorothy Stang, who was shot to death for defending the ecosystems and people of the Amazon, as well as Cláudio Cardinal Hummes, O.F.M., whom the pope mentioned in his talk last month to Brazil's bishops. The Church is providing aid, oversight, and works of mercy, even if this comes at great risk. 

But increasing this presence is what Pope Francis meant when he urge the bishops of Brazil to protect the Amazon. He wasn't just speaking of forests. He also meant the indigenous peoples who call those forests home.

I'll be posting more on this in the weeks and months (and years?) to come. But for moment, on this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—when we celebrate the divine love for creation and for us, its human creatures—let us pray in a special way that the Triune God may bless the indigenous peoples of Brazil and in so many other places. May He protect them and keep them safe from those of us who consume far too much. And may He inspire and strengthen all people with His grace so that we may not only consume less, but also offer the world more of His truth, justice, mercy, and, of course, sacrificial love.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.
Saint Katherine Drexel, pray for us.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, pray for us.

All you holy men and women, pray for us.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting. No input or question is too small. You're encouraged to be passionate, feisty, and humorous. But do so with civility, please.